Planning Ideas for a European Vacation

Planning Ideas for a European Vacation

Our family just got back from a 3-day road trip. While we had a fabulous time out of Dodge, we are tired and happy to be home. Our kids are pretty good travelers, packing their stuff and loading the car in pretty short order. We love the idea of traveling with our big family.

As happens when we’re away from home, we start talking about our trip to Europe, tentatively planned for this fall. While we have some vague ideas about what we want to do, nothing is in stone. It’s been so long since we were in France for our honeymoon, we know that much has probably changed in European travel.

I suggested to FishPapa that he and I could do a recon trip by ourselves for a week, but he wasn’t buying that.

My follow up suggestion was that we ask you.

I did this years ago when we were planning our first Disneyland trip with kids. I can’t tell you how immensely helpful your suggestions were back then! I benefitted so much from your hard-earned wisdom. So, today, I’m turning the mic over to you as concerns European travel with children.

How would YOU plan a European vacation?

Feel free to plan my family’s European vacation. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

Who: Two parents, Six kids, ages 6 to 17

Our kids have never left the country. They will be ages 6, 7, 10, 12, 13, and 17 when we go.

Where: Europe

The boundary lines are wide open. We were initially just set on France, and then France and England. For this exercise, we’re entertaining all ports.

When: Fall, after summer vacations end, for up to 5 weeks

We’ve heard this is the best time to go. Since we homeschool, we can make our own calendar.

How: Budget travel

Let’s say you have about $25,000 to cover transportation and travel expenses for eight people.

Feel free to leave me links, book recommendations, travel spots, things to pack, tips, etc.

Lay it on me, baby.

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Comments

  1. When we spent time in Europe, we found it much less expensive to rent an apartment than stay in hotels. Some will allow you to rent for just a few days, others require longer stays. In Paris, our family of six plus two guests all stayed in an apartment. I think one child may have slept on a couch, but still it was nice to all be together rather than in two or three hotel rooms.

    • Renting via homeaway.com or vrbo.com has been the way we’ve done most of our United States travelling and how we plan to do Europe someday. We have had friends who have done Europe this way with great success. It saves a great deal on meals as well, since most places have some sort of cooking facilities for you to cook.

    • It’s our plan to rent apartments or small homes wherever we go. It really doesn’t make sense for a family our size to do multiple hotel rooms.

      Did you feel that everything was clean and up to par?

  2. I’m from Sweden and I can tell you that everything is more expensive here in Europe than in the US. Gas is if not three times your price at least the double. Food is extremely cheep in theUS.
    For Tour Eiffel I recommend you to buy tickets online.
    Sorry if this was a bit negative but I love your country and we have been there several times with our crowd, four kids, and for us it’s less expensive to go to the US than travel around Europe!
    Sandra

  3. Hostels! If you’re trying to travel on a budget, there are a few main hostel sites out there that let you book rooms and read reviews. Reviews are plentiful and accurate, and hostels are very common in Europe (unlike the US) with dozens to pick from in most major cities, and often at least one hostel even in small towns. While “hostel” conjures up images of mixed gender bunkrooms piled high with backpackers, many hostels have a nice family environment and offer private rooms and private baths with breakfast included and helpful staff. I stayed in many during a semester living in Europe, and they were generally pleasant, clean, and comfortable. If you’re staying somewhere for longer, renting a small apartment or studio can be cost effective so you can make meals at home. In France esp., stopping at a bakery for breakfast and grabbing crepes from a street vendor for lunch can make meals less expensive. Trains can be very comfortable, but don’t overlook flights within Europe. There are a ton of budget airlines (for tips on using them and a very long list of airline options check here http://www.ricksteves.com/travel-tips/transportation/budget-flights ). I frequently flew for as little as 20 Euros, packing my own meal and taking only a carry on. The key was being flexible with my schedule, and looking first for cheap flights. So, if I had a free weekend or break coming up, I’d look first at what flights were on sale, and be flexible with the order of cities I was hoping to visit. Austria –> Paris –> Barcelona –> Berlin might be 80% cheaper or 200% more expensive than the same cities in a different order. Austria is gorgeous if you choose to go that far East. Budapest is another favorite – much of the beauty of a city like Prague, without the hordes of tourists.

    • Oh, also, be sure to tell your credit/debit card companies you’re traveling so they don’t cancel your card at an unexpected purchase. I’d travel with a small number of Euros, but get the rest of your cash there. Don’t use airport currency exchanges – they’re a ripoff! Just stop at an ATM – they’re plentiful and they all have an English option.

      • Well, seeing as my bank gave me a hard time buying a computer a couple weeks ago, I think we’ll definitely need to let them know we’re traveling. I’ve read about Eurocash cards that you can preload. Do you have any experience with that?

    • Interesting about the hostels. We’re a family of 8. Would they be able to accommodate us? Thanks for the Rick Steeves tip. That seems to be a recurring theme. Will have to check out his books.

  4. Jessica, Since I’m reading this in grey London, and like you studied in France as a Uni student, I had to leave a comment!!
    If you are coming to Europe from So Cal, I would definitely visit more than just France. I like London and there are lots for the kids to do.
    You may have your own plans for travel, but we go to France quite a lot. The tunnel with car is great as kids don’t need to get out, but I don’t like it :(
    I really like the ferry, but only Brittany Ferries. This is the start of the holiday for me and we get a long enough trip for kids to see movie, and get food to eat – it’s french food!!
    The other way is the Eurostar into Paris. BUT you have to get a taxi from the Gare du Nord as pick pockets are rife. Once you are in your accomodation, Paris is paris – small enough to walk ’round still :)
    We did California last Easter – San Diego then drive up to Lake Tahoe and home from San Fran.
    We are lucky we have family to stay with in San Diego and used Holiday Inn to stop en route. Big mistake we made was San Fran with 4 kids. They had more fun in the Golden Gate park sandpit!! – we have one not too far in London :)
    As and auntie said, if you have kids you need a plan – we didn’t have a plan for San Fran
    OOOh and our museums are free in London!!

    • You know how much BBC we’ve been watching, I don’t think we can go that far without visiting the UK. In fact, we’re thinking of expanding to Scotland and Ireland as well. Just depends on the funds.

      On an earlier post about British TV, a commentor said that London had been portrayed inaccurately on TV. Any suggestions as to what resource would give us realistic expectations?

      • Ooh Scotland and Ireland are lovely. We spent loads of holidays in Ireland when I was a kid.
        Not sure what has been said about London, I suppose it depends on the BBC drama. I think the modern stuff is fairly accurate! But as DH is always saying, London is like a mini country and is very different from the rest of the UK, which also means there are lots of different ‘bits’ to it.
        I have a book that I’ve not used but looks great – “Kiddiwalks in London” Each walk has a park in it, which I think it perfect for kids, and we are really lucky that London has lots of big parks, both centrally and a little further out.
        I love to go ‘into town’ and walk around or take kids to the museums, but I also like to visit the markets outside of the centre and eat local food there – being in a mixed marriage I have the advantage of native speaker and kids get to eat Desi food!
        London has a bit of everything, you don’t have to see it all, go for what interests your family.
        When we were in San Fran, DD1 wanted to see the earthquake exhibition. We went to museum, and the guide said the butterflies etc. were the best, do the earthquake last. My kids and I loved the earthquake exhibit!! But DH (ex Passadena!) said it wasn’t like the real thing. We don’t get earthquakes here.
        Email if you want any specifics, I get very excited about London when people visit, but spend the grey months wishing I was elsewhere!

  5. Ok, so here are my random tips… Trying to limit myself because I could go on and on about this for ages:
    1. Paris has an extremely efficient metro system, which I’m guessing you know, but thought I’d put that out there just in case. It can get you to anywhere you would need to get in the city.
    2. I think the kids would love Notre Dame… going to the top and seeing all the gargoyles was fun for me, and I think it would be for kids too.
    3. Versailles is just outside of Paris and again, I think anyone would love it. The buildings, the grounds, all of it. Go on a nice day weather-wise so that you can spend time touring the gardens.
    4. If you’re looking for very budget accommodations, consider staying in one of the outer arrondissments (neighboorhoods that Paris is divided into). Again, the metro is efficient and you can get to what you need to very easily.
    5. Take the kids to the Louvre & Museu D’Orsay to see all the art.
    6. I had a book (I think it was Fodors) of top 10 in Paris and it gave the top 10 of everything (food, attractions, etc) and had maps in it. I definitely recommend something like this. The places we chose to eat out of the book were so much better than the places we chose just winging it.

    Again, you might already know all of this from your honeymoon, but I thought I’d share just in case you or anyone else might find it interesting.

  6. Do ever read the blog “Views from my Kitchen sink”? The author, Pam, and her husband moved their family of 6 to Paris from the States a few years ago. I bet if you popped over there, she would be able to give you some good info.

  7. Sherrie Roderick says:

    Why not use this time as a lesson in your schooling. We did this when we were living in Germany and I was in sixth grade. We were given a budget and we set up itineraries, hotel plans, meals, even transportation. This way the children get to research and pick a few places they really want to see.

  8. I’m mostly here to read the comments too LOL – I’m hoping to do a trip to italy sometime in or after the next school year [school vacation dependent here unfortunately] so I want to hear the advice too!

    But I will just pipe in with ‘get the kids’ passports – and yours – in order sooner rather than later!’

  9. If you’re going to the Netherlands, their rail system used to have a rail/bike rental combo–and they have excellent bike paths–as well as a rail/museum combo.

    If you’re into nature, hiking and biking trips throughout Europe are definitely recommended.

    If I were anywhere nearby, I’d visit l’Abri. You would probably love it , but the littles might find it a bit boring…or they might enjoy the downtime.

  10. Whichever European cities you end up visiting, check Frommers online ahead. We’ve found the most amazing free walking tours on their site. They all start from well known landmarks, contain very explicit “can’t get lost” directions, and lots of great info and commentary. Before we were device-happy, we used to print out and take with us, now we download. We’ve done Paris, Zurich, Prague, Amsterdam, and several others this way and we’ve never been disappointed.

    Oh, and grab a half size expandable file to organize the trip while you’re there (the size for checks). It fits nicely in moms tote or purse and allows you to keep all the papers organized (passports, itineraries, reservation confirmations, receipts, etc). I haven’t traveled without one in 20 years–actually found a leather one designed for travel at a thrift shop one time. It has been a life saver more than once.

    • Love the walking tours suggestion. I’ve gotten lost in French cities before and walked for what seemed like hours. I’d rather not do that with the whole fam.

      Thanks for the organizer suggestion. I need all the help I can get!

  11. Nana Jan says:

    we are hoping to take our two grandchildren to Paris and London this summer as well. I started looking at various intergenerational holiday sites for inspiritation. then we realized that we could duplicate a lot ourselves. we went ourselves in 2008 with only our backpacks on wheels. start by washing your undies and see which ones dry over night, take those. wash other clothes too and see what dries the quickest. if you are travelling between towns, you can wear the same clothes over and over, no one will notice. you can take the train from Paris out to Giverny and to Versaille, the city bus tours give you a reasonable guided glimpse of the size of the city.did you know that there is a Roman Amphitheatre in Paris? Also a zoological park is nearby. we didnt go in but were able to see a few animals on the other side of the fence. also there are a lot of city museums such as Carnevalet Musee which has history of the city , it is free, You must go and visit “Shakespeare and Company” a book store selling English written books near Notre Dame on the other side of the river. Started by an American George Whitman, now deceased and currently operated by his daughter. A MUST SEE. for sure. look for the quotes painted over a doorway e.g “Be not inhospitable to strangers, lest they be Angels in disguise ” he would offer free lodging to aspiring writers while they worked at the store for Mr Whitman. a visit to Paris wouldnt be complete without visiting this store.
    have a great vacation

    • I went to that bookstore as a college student, but was underwhelmed. Enlighten me now that I’m more mature. What was the “must see” part for you?

      • I thought that the history of the bookstore and the relationship that owner had with the students was important. if one is expecting a coffee lounge and free wi fi, one would be disappointed. I was surprised to see the Quote”Be not hospitable” painted over a door jamb and took a photo of the quote and I found that quite inspiring. finding little cots topped up with books during the day and realizing that someone might have had the opportunity to sleep there was intriguing to me as well. we bought a pop up book for our grandchildren on that trip. I didnt want to drag too much back on a plane, so it was a 1/2 hr visit with the past. after all in the day, this was THE English print book store in Paris. it reminded me of a real Harry Potter dust filled repository of Books, old and new, and there might have been a treasure there, if only I had stayed long enough to search through the stacks.

        • I should add that I was in college 20+ years ago. I imagine that it would be different for me now in many of the ways you describe, especially now that “real” bookstores are so hard to find. Thanks for showing me through your eyes. :)

  12. We are taking our homeschooling family of 5 to Europe this September for 3 weeks. Our girls are 8, 10, 11 and we are planning for Paris for a week, Germany for a time, Prague, Budapest and Salzburg. We have been able to find apartments in every city we are staying in for substantially less than hotels, plus we will be able to cook meals there. We plan to eat in a lot since eating out can be so expensive in Europe. My husband has found that the majority of the museums kids under 12 (some places 18) are free so that helps save. We are planning to only take a few outfits each because the apartments we have chosen all have washing machines. Also on Trip Advisor, my husband has found lots of private tour guides that are much cheaper than going with a big bus tour plus they can accomodate exactly what we would like to see, so we have chosen to do that in a couple of the places. We try to find the tours that take us to things that would be hard for us to see on our own – like a farm tour, glass blowing factory, etc. Let me know if you want any more details about what we have found…my husband is the travel research hound! :)

  13. This sounds like so much fun! I’m anxious to see how it unfolds. It’s been almost 10 years (WOW) since I’ve been to Europe, but every time we come back from a family trip (with kids almost 5 and 7 now) I see us getting a bit closer to international travel!!

    When we last went to Europe, we used Rick Steves’ guides and they were incredibly helpful at finding really good but inexpensive accommodations, food, etc. But I would second other commenters and try to rent an apartment – I’m guessing that would be the best value.

    You could possibly divide your trip up by weeks with a different base city for each week (i.e. Week 1 London, Week 2 Rome, Week 3 Madrid, Week 4 Bern, Week 5 Paris) and make day trips as necessary from there with the idea that the week 5 city would have good access back to (or be) where you need to fly from. This is of course predicated on the idea that your destinations are more city-related. I’ve heard agro-tourism is really fun way to experience the culture, particularly in Italy. That said, while food is probably more expensive in the cities, transportation is cheaper … and there’s a lot to do and see.

    We’ve overall had great luck traveling by shopping for at least one meal/day at a grocery store. Even when we have just a hotel we’ll stop by a market and grab some granola bars, lunch meat and cheese to hand out in the car rather than paying for a hotel breakfast or driving thru McDonalds. Some of our best meals in Europe were a few staples from the store (Orangina and goat cheese with crackers) and I will never dismiss street food as an option!

    Good luck with everything.

  14. I would gather more ideas by going to http://www.expatsblog.com. They have a directory of blogs written by expats all over the world and their directory has then broken down by country (click on expats blog on the top to see the list). France, for example, has over 100. If you click on France you can read the intros and select blogs that best align to your interests. For Germany I like Thrify Travel Mama as she details traveling around Europe with 3 little boys and places that have worked for them. She also has several entries on traveling with kids in Paris that might be of interest. Good luck and have fun!
    Another tip I got is to search familienhotels – these are places that are especially set up to accommodate families with separate dining areas, working farms and other attractions that are designed for kids to enjoy.
    Also search “fun forests” these are areas in forested areas that have rappelling and zip-lining adventures and are very reasonably priced for when you want to take a break from city sightseeing.
    We are actually moving to Europe this summer for at least 2 years – I can’t wait to take advantage of all the travel!!! Hope you blog about your adventures so we all can see what you ended up doing. Have fun!

  15. I went to Paris after college with my parents in 2010. We bought ‘Paris Pass’ or whatever its called in Paris– where you pay for so many days (2, 3, 5, 7 — we did 5) and you can get into any of the 30+ places covered by the pass for those days. this was a great deal — my dad was disappointed we couldn’t get one on the other part of our trip. I know you homeschool so it might be different type of proof but for younger students, my understanding was it was free for them even for non EU kids. Your kids are very lucky.

    • They are pretty great kids, so I hope we can make this a good experience for them. I feel rather clueless and unsure of myself at the moment, and the clock is ticking on the planning.

  16. I’m living vicariously! Love this planned trip- I’m a nomad at heart- would love to just pack up and homeschool on the road. :)

  17. Christine says:

    Have not been in France in about 25 years either. I do recall my sister and ex-brother-in-law rented chateaus in France (again this was about 20 years ago). This was much cheaper for them than staying in a hotel. http://www.homeaway.com has chateaus listed. I used this same site to rent our townhouse for Disney World. I have not used it to rent outside the US.

  18. I studied abroad in England for four months, traveling all around Europe. This last summer my husband and I went and we had to condense all we wanted to see into under two weeks, but we had so much fun. We both agreed the pace would need to be slower with kids, but I have some tips that may be helpful:
    1.) Check and see if flying into London is cheaper, because I’ve oftentimes found that’s the hub they first send you to from Southern Cal. If you want to fly into London and out of Paris, call the airlines to book the ticket, we did this and they charged us something like $75 dollars but took over a thousand dollars off what the price would have been for two people. It also allowed us to customize our travel times a bit more.
    2.) If you can, take a red eye so the kids can sleep. Try and make sure they aren’t putting you on too many layover flights, which takes the experience from luxurious to comically awful. The way there we had a huge plane, tons of in-flight movies, and so much food. Kids would love the service, and within a couple hours they’d be asleep and then pretty soon you’re awake, they serve you breakfast and you’re there. With a layover, you are often in a smaller plane, no TV, there was vomit on my in-flight blanket because the planes were doing so many trips they were cleaned less, and you are at-risk for missing your connecting flight. Also, bring the kids a blanket, because sometimes they don’t give you enough and being cold is the worst on a plane (also some are gross!), socks and slippers so they feel like they’re transitioning into bedtime and to help with swelling feet, and Dramamine or something of the like if it’s needed you’ll want it.
    3.) Push everyone to make it to at least 7 P.M. without sleeping the day you arrive. It will hurt, but it will set you up.
    4.) Heathrow airport security is a nightmare. Make sure you have NOTHING in your carry-on that could go off in security, they are way stricter, and it would take hours for them to search all your families bags. Paris is more relaxed but less so than what I’ve experienced in US security (except for the shoes).
    5.) Bring tons of snacks! But you’d already do this. It really does save so much money and get eaten.
    6.) For places: The Lake District in England is where I want to spend the rest of my life. It is everything English storybooks are made of. You can stay on farms, walk through pastures of sheep, and enjoy seeing where Beatrix Potter and Wordsworth lived (but don’t spend the money on going inside). I think kids would benefit from hiking, seeing farms, and the quaint wonderland. It’s way better than always being in a city. Take a train from London to Windermere, then you’re there. From there take a bus to get to your accommodations. If you want to see Wales (this is more complicated), take a train to Hereford, then take a bus to Hay on Wye — a town of nothing but used books. It’s awesome. Then I’d do London, there’s an outdoor theater in Regent’s Park I might look into sitting on the grass and bringing a picnic. Then of course all the usual attractions. There are Flat Tire Bike Tours that a lot of kids were on, and gives you the brief history of the city. It would add up with eight, but there are coupons and kids may love the bikes. I personally thought it was a bit overwhelming to bike through the hoards of people and prefer to wander on my own. Then take a train from London to Paris. Do all the usual things in Paris and fly home. So Heathrow – London – Windermere – Hay on Wye – London – Paris – any side trips in Paris – Paris. Just some ideas. Also, Versailles ended up being awful for my husband and I, expensive and the line was days, and the crowds are littered with pick pockets. I loved it in college, though. For museums, look into the Museum Pass in Paris. Musee d’ Orsay is a kid friendly area I’ve heard. Eat tons of ice cream and pastries, and lastly, be careful where you picnic, there’s a lot of drunks and people peeing on sidewalks. They’re harmless, but still.
    7.) Accommodations: Apartments in Paris and London and in the English Countryside negotiate the price to pennies for those B & B’s. You also get a full breakfast. I had better experiences with hostels in less urban areas. London was terrifying, but other people feel very differently, so it depends on how casual you are in sleeping in a room of 20 people, men and women, it smells sweaty, some have drunk a lot, and not a lot of air. You can, however, get private rooms sometimes which are like a budget hotels and would be great for kids. You can chalk any bad places up to adventure in the end.
    8.) For food troll food blogs, picnic, and bring stuff.
    9.) Rent apartments and get train tickets early, hotels can be more favorable last min.
    10.) Walk everywhere and when you can’t take it use cheap public transportation.
    Have fun! It’s so special that your family is doing this, and your kids will learn so much about food, culture, history, and travel. It’s expensive, but the memories really do last a lifetime. (And sorry this is SO long! I never comment, but I couldn’t help myself. I love travel.)

    • I’m so glad you did. Keep the good ideas coming!

    • Coming back to read this again. Do you thin we would find enough variety between England and France to keep things exciting for a month?

      • I think so, but it depends on where you decide to go. I personally like a mix of city and countryside when traveling, it’s easier financially and gives me a better view of the country. I also like to fit in a lot of places, which isn’t everyone’s style. For even more variety I would suggest flying into Edinburgh, Scotland (that’s what we did), it’s a very festive and fun city because it has a mix of history, city, and gorgeous countryside. We hiked King Arthur’s Seat and toured the palace and a castle in one day and walked everywhere! You can take a bus from the airport and it will drop you off downtown, so try and find accommodations within a couple blocks of the bus stop, and ideally also close to Waverly train stain for when you leave. I’ve also been to Loch Ness in the Scottish highlands which was gorgeous. From Edinburgh, you are even closer to parts of the English countryside than you would be in London. You could easily take a train from Edinburgh to Windermere (in the Lake District), then you can go to where I suggested in Wales (Hay-on-Wye), and then other parts of the English countryside such as York, Stonehenge, the Cotswold’s, and/or Oxford. Then go to London and Paris – any trips around France – and fly home out of Paris or Nice. An example is: a 1/2 week in Scotland (I’d add in Ireland also and make it a full week), 6 days or so in the English Countryside, seven days in London, seven days in Paris (10 days would be plenty for Paris/London I think, but renting apartments in major cities often requires a weeks stay), and that leaves you with maybe a day or two to side trip in France. Brussels is also an easy train ride from London and Bruges looks lovely. Or, if you want to go at a quicker pace, you could always fly out of Paris to another European country, like Italy or take an overnight train to Switzerland or Germany, spending a handful of days there, then flying home. Flights are cheap within Europe, but taxes and finding some airports can be a nightmare. Probably Edinburgh to the English countryside to London to Paris would be cheapest, and can all very easily be done by trains. Belgium might be easy to fit in, too. Let me know if you have any other questions! You are going to have SO much fun! ;)

        • I’m ready to have you plan the trip for us! ;) Everything you name sounds great. I would add a least 7 to 10 days in Paris and a few days in the south (Pyrenees Orientales) since my French family lives there.

  19. For part of your trip you might want to consider a cruise. Children sail free under age 17 as 3rd and 4th guest on NCL in the fall. You may have to get 2 rooms/pay full price for 4 ppl but it is still a money saver for a family of 8. You’ll get to see more ports. You can book your own excursions through companies online rather than through the ship.
    We spent 3 extra days before the cruise in Barcelona to see the sites since the ship departed from there. Took a 7 day cruise to Rome, Naples, Florence etc. After the cruise we flew to Venice for 2 days and then Paris for 2 days. Paris def needs at least 3-5 days–so much to see but we were strapped for time. We skipped London b/c of cost and we only had approx 2 weeks.

  20. When my husband and I went 14 years ago (without kids!), we found Rick Steve’s Europe Through the Backdoor to be really helpful. I am not sure if there is an updated version. . .

    His recommendations for lodging were all good and economical.

  21. Check the blog Kevin and Amanda, http://www.kevinandamanda.com/whatsnew/travel/how-to-give-a-vacation-as-a-christmas-present.html They asked the same question and got tons of tips in their comment section!

  22. Just a few comments, some of which have already been covered by others, but here goes:

    1. VRBO for apartments. So much cheaper than hotels, more room for your large family, laundry facilities, wifi and full kitchen. Hit a grocery store and you are set for some of your meals.
    2. Metro/Tubes multi-day passes. The best way to get around Paris and London, although we did take a double decker bus once in London to satisfy my 10 year old.
    3. Put your kids to work over the next 6 months. We went to Paris and London 2 summers ago and my now 13 year old did a lot of our trip research. I checked out guide books from the library for him, and he did online research. He put together a full itinerary and discovered some true gems that we would never have thought to visit on our own.
    4. Rick Steves books on Paris and London were valuable while we were over there. Nice to know top sights to see, museum hours, closure days, restaurant recommendations, etc.
    5. Notify your credit card company that you will be traveling. Ours got turned off while there until we called them to reactivate it after explaining our travel situation.
    Have a fantastic trip! Exposing our kids to travel is so beneficial. You will not regret it and they will remember the experience forever. We took our boys to NYC and DC last fall (and experienced part of the government shutdown while there! They received an unintentional lesson on politics), and are already planning our next big trip. Safe travels to you and your family!

  23. We took our children to Europe three years ago for three weeks, and it was an amazing time. They were 8 and 11 at the time so we tried to break up the city sightseeing days with “fun days” for the kids. For instance, we spent a day at the Vienna Zoo, and rented bicycles to ride around the ancient wall surrounding the quaint town of Lucca, Italy. Spring for the bike helmets! Trust me, I learned the hard way that not every culture rides bikes on the same side of the path….anyway, I wanted to share some tips that helped us that I didn’t read in the comments above. Most importantly, TRAVEL LIGHT. We all had one carryon, rolling suitcase and a backpack. We did laundry just once, and washed our unmentionables in a sink when needed. You want your children to be able to carry their own bags, and large suitcases are a big pain to load onto trains, cabs, etc. We traveled by train, sometimes in sleeper cars. When the kiddos removed their shoes to sleep, the small cabin didn’t smell the best. Baby wipes worked great to do a quick cleaning. A tennis ball is also a nice way to massage those sore feet after walking all day while sightseeing. Bring a padlock to attach to a “Love Lock Bridge.” We saw these in several cities throughout Europe, but couldn’t find a hardware store to buy our own. You write your initials and wedding date on a padlock, attach it to the side of a bridge and throw the key in the water….a very romantic symbol! Try to spend more time in the smaller towns. We found the prices to be cheaper, and preferred the quieter places rather than the big cities. Our itinerary: Prague (a wonderful, must-see), Vienna (would have preferred Salzburg), Venice (AMAZING!), Florence (a good central stop to see the surrounding area of Tuscany) and the Amalfi Coast (Heaven on Earth). After that we boarded a cruise, and stopped in Genoa, Italy, Marseilles, France, Barcelona, Spain, Malta, Sicily and ended up in Rome. The cruise was a fabulous way to visit numerous cities, unpack once in your “hotel” room, and have all your meals included. They are pretty reasonably priced and sometimes have free fares for children. You don’t need to pay for excursions in every city. Most of the ports on a Mediterranean cruise are in big cities that offer many things to see as soon as you step off the boat. In fact, we ran into our fellow passengers in more than one port. We had walked or taken public transportation to a particular sight, while they paid almost $100 for an excursion to the exact same location. They weren’t happy to see us when we ran into them. One more thing, spring for the gelato every day….you will be walking so much it won’t register on the scale! I’m jealous, have a fabulous time!

  24. 1. I would practice taking your kids on long walks. The distances you typically walk in Paris (or anywhere in Europe really) to get from one place to another always shocked my friends when they would visit me. It was nothing to walk 5-8 miles a day and it would be annoying to have sore calves and feet for the first week or two when you’re only going to be in Europe for a month. Obviously, comfy shoes are going to be important as well.

    2. Picnics! There’s nothing like getting DELICIOUS bread, cheese, fruit, and treats from the Monoprix for a few cents and eating outdoors (rainy Paris weather permitting). While the open markets are beautiful, I found every day things were just cheaper at Monoprix and plenty good. When I was a starving student, I carried a wedge of cheese, a loaf of bread, a bag of marinated olives, and apples in my purse and ate in gorgeous parks and public places all over the city. You can make easy sandwiches of saucisson sec, cornichons, and butter on baguettes in the morning and carry them around all day too for a cheap and easy meal. Oh and make sure you carry a large bottle of water everywhere you go.

    3. Pick pockets in Paris are NO JOKE. Especially when you get swarmed by small gypsy children in the Metro stations and you get distracted by their begging. Backpacks are the worst for getting pickpocketed, so make sure your kids keep valuables around their neck (like those passport pouches on a string), preferably tucked under their shirt. I either carried a small cross-body purse (and would sometimes zip it up under my jacket) if I was riding the Metro, or a larger tote that zipped up that I could keep tucked firmly under my arm. Do not let your husband and boys carry wallets in their back pocket.

    4. If you are going to eat out, I would stick to the areas that cater to students like on the Blvd. St. Michel near the Jardins du Luxembourg. They usually have inexpensive prix fixe menus for lunch and dinner.

    5. Pick smaller but memorable food splurges. A hot Nutella banana crepe or sugar gaufre off the street. Ice cream at Berthillon on the Ile St. Louis under the shadow of Notre Dame. Fancy hot chocolate at Angelina’s. A macaron at Pierre Herme. Incredible falafel sandwiches (and a great tie in to the North African culture aspect of Paris) at L’As du Fallafel. Visiting the smaller, and less overwhelming market on Rue Mouffetard (although Rungis market could be an adventure as well). This could also be a great way to reinforce the rhythms of the French diet (no snacking, just breakfast, lunch, gouter for children, and dinner) by making the most of that afternoon gouter.

    6. Time your visit. Paris has free admission to a LOT of places on the first Sunday of each month. http://en.parisinfo.com/discovering-paris/themed-guides/paris-for-free/low-cost-culture/free-admission-and-good-deals-in-museums-and-monuments-in-paris#Ancre%202

    7. Teach your kids to slow down when they eat and savor their meals. One thing that blew my friends’ minds when they would visit me from the States is how LONG meals went in France. They were so used to the American style service where you get your food quickly, get your check quickly, and leave that they all thought French service was horrible. They were extremely cranky about it in fact! I had to explain that the French would consider it rude to shoo someone out the door quickly and often expect you to linger for a long time, whether its a 5 course meal or a cup of coffee. I can imagine a long, slow meal could be hard for younger kids if they are used to eating and darting off in a different direction.

    8. Along the same lines as above, practice doing big Sunday lunches as a family. Things often shut down on Sundays in France anyway, so its a good way to fill the time. Oh the epic 3-4 hour long French Sunday lunches my host family’s mother had at her house…They were legendary. It was such a great way to recharge and connect with the family before the week began.

    9. Carry a small pack of baby or Kandoo wipes, a wad of toilet paper, mini packs of Kleenex, and hand sanitizer. Bathrooms in Europe can be….tricky.

    10. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/travel/travel-guide-paris-for-kids.html?pagewanted=2

    11. Pack peanut butter in your checked luggage. You can find the most delicious jams in France, but they will charge you an arm and a leg for peanut butter. And sometimes you just need a PBJ to remind you of home after all that “foreign” food.

  25. Hi Jess
    I commented on your link to your pinterest page regarding recreating your picture in front of the Eiffel tower. Just a few more thoughts. My family and I have been back home (Cairns, Australia) for about 5 weeks now after a 6 week vacation through the States and then 12 months in Edmonton, Canada doing a fire-fighter exchange. With traveling, school for our two children etc, my husband taking countless photos at the fire station, me working etc we came home with 40,000 photos/video files!!

    1. We had 4 cameras between us along with 2 phones which took awesome photos as well (you might well take more with your bigger family :) ). I was overwhelmed in how the photos ended up on the laptop while overseas and I have come home with a bit of a shamble. The laptop saved each cameras photos in different ways and the Nikons and the Cannons save with different prefixes. I also deleted photos by mistake because the cameras started naming pictures the same as previous transferred pictures. This meaning when I uploaded pictures to the laptop for storage there were already pictures called the same thing. Before I realised what was happening I had saved over the top of photos. We took awesome footage of us riding bikes along the south rim of the Grand Canyon. We can’t find it :( which is devastating.

    SO… have plans of how you will save your pictures while overseas. Trial now how your laptop saves the pictures from each camera so you have a plan for on the road. Can you spend the money on enough sd cards so that you don’t have to do any transferring while overseas. I wish I had spent the couple of hundred dollars on a few extra big sd cards.

    2. I didn’t think to change the time & date on my good Nikon 5100. With the time difference between Australia and the US my camera was out by 17 hours. So… change the date in your cameras so the property data of each picture reflects the actual date taken. All my pictures are out of whack. Not a biggie but still would be helpful to sort by date taken considering the shamble of pictures I have

    3. Make sure you have some ideas in your head about what memories you all want to preserve in photos. I was conscious about not spending all our time behind the camera but the other day we were looking for a picture of the house we were living in in Edmonton covered in snow. (lol we do not have snow in the tropics of Australia) We couldn’t find a picture. What!!! We didn’t seem to have taken any. Though we do have many of sledding, skiing, the car covered in snow, shoveling etc we don’t have a proper picture of the house from across the street with 6 foot of snow . In the end we do have the memories and the places in our head. But find a happy medium.

    4. Like the comment I made about recreating the picture of your husband and yourself in front of the Eiffel tower, make an effort to take a group family shot in all the major places you visit. Our most treasured photos through the states and Canada were the ones of the 4 of us in front of the Grand Canyon, the Disneyland Resort entrance, a selfie of the 4 of us with the Matterhorn behind us, on the red carpet at Universal studios, standing and looking out at the Hoover Dam, Mt Rushmore, in front of Lake Louise in the Canadian Rockies… and many more places of course etc etc. Ask a stranger to take the picture for you or learn how to use the self timer on the camera if appropriate. You might not be able to do this in a crowed place you all have to step away from the camera perched on a ledge to use the self timer.

    As a scrapbooker I also love the pictures we took of us at the airport leaving, arriving in Honolulu with an Hawaiian Airlines plane behind us, our bags packed to come home after being away for so long, even the few I have of the many motels we stayed in along with camping etc. Take the trivial and the mundane as well.

    Hope some of this is food for thought. Cheers Janine

    • This is super helpful! I had not thought of any of these things. DId you take a separate camera bag or just pack it in your daypack?

      • Hi Jessica, I’m so very sorry it’s taken me so long to get back to you. We did take camera bags but they weren’t true camera bags. We had these really cool padded drawstring bags that we then put inside our backpacks (daypacks?) They are from an Australia company but I see they have a store based in New York. http://www.crumpler.com/us/camera-bags-straps/haven-l I got the largest one for my camera as it fitted my dslr as well as an extra lens etc. And it still fit in th bottom of my backpack albeit filling the bottom. We were very happy with them, they worked very well and are very good quality. I see they are a fare bit cheaper in American dollars :)

  26. I know this is really late, but… ;)

    We are currently living for a three year period in Scotland (it’s gorgeous here so do visit!), but we’re off next week for a month in France. I’m lucky to be doing all of our staying with family though. ;)

    Airbnb is good for places to stay. Sykes cottages is also a great one for the UK. We’ve found excellent deals on that for home rentals. When are you planning on coming? If you make it as far up as St Andrews in Scotland, let me know. ;)

    • How wonderful to get to live there for a season! We actually bumped Scotland for trip #3. After this London/Paris/Western France gig, we’re going to try for something tropical. Then Scotland/Ireland. Take good notes!

      • Oh my gosh. Somewhere tropical! How far from home are you thinking? Lol please consider visiting the Great Barrier Reef. I would love to meet you in person :)

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